Opinions split on new tourist road

The Westland District Council's property company says it has a ''memorandum of understanding'' with overseas financiers to build a $220 million road between Haast and Hollyford. Mark Price went to Jackson Bay to find out whether such a road would be welcomed.

There is already a road south from Jackson Bay.

It is narrow and winding and stops at a locked gate about 20km from the coast.

But if the Westland District Property Company has its way, the road will be extended another 160km, to the Hollyford Valley near Milford Sound.

The expectation is that the road - a toll road - would lead more tourists to the West Coast.

That will put little-known settlements like Haast Beach, Okuru, Hannah's Clearing, Neil's Beach and Waitoto firmly on the tourist trail.

And, as the Otago Daily Times found out earlier this month, the residents of these places are in two minds about that.

There are those who see the economic opportunities while others are perfectly happy with the way things are.

As well, there are concerns about whether the infrastructure of Jackson Bay, or Open Bay, as Captain Cook named it, can cope with a heavy stream of tourists.

Jackson Bay stretches for more than 20km with houses and settlements tucked away in the bush - front lawns adorned with cray pots, boats, tractors, utes, old caravans and interesting pieces of driftwood.

Hannahs Clearing is one of those settlements - about 30 houses straddling the road between Haast and the Jackson Bay settlement.

It is home to jet-boat driver Vicki Cain, who would ''probably say against'' the road.

She is concerned about having more tourist traffic speeding past her front door, does not think tourists would stop at Hannahs Clearing and says tourism will not boost property prices.

Ms Cain said the value of the settlement's houses had ''absolutely exploded'' over the last 10 years as Queenstown, Wanaka and Alexandra people ''discovered that, hello, we've got this paradise in our back yard''.

''The fishing out there is absolutely incredible, whitebaiting at your fingertips, trout fishing, deer hunting at your fingertips.

''You literally walk out into the bush and it's your playground.''

Her neighbour, Daryl Hewer, is on the other side of the fence. He was also born at Hannah's Clearing and is unemployed.

He believes the road has the potential to create jobs and attract more young families to the settlement, which would help support the school.

Hannahs Clearing was once known as Carter's Mill and the primary school had 120 pupils.

The mill closed in the 1970s and now the school's roll is 21.

Sole fulltime teacher Liz Hawker sees a need for more jobs to attract the young people of the area back after they have been away to boarding school.

But she is also concerned about the environmental impact of more tourism and is also worried about safety issues to do with the road.

The state of the sealed, council-owned road around Jackson Bay is a thorny issue.

A resident of Neils Beach, who did not want to be named, said a lot of money would need to be spent on it to cope with the increased tourist traffic.

As well, the Turnbull River hydro-electricity system that generates Jackson Bay's electricity is already working at maximum capacity and cannot easily be upgraded.

And as for tourist accommodation, there is sufficient for the influx of whitebaiters but nothing to rival other South Island tourist towns.

And he warns that while Jackson Bay might face the problem of having to expand to cope with more tourists, places like Queenstown and Wanaka could have the opposite problem.

Getting away from the ''rat race'' drew Allan Meikle to Hannahs Clearing from Invercargill 15 years ago.

He has been living off an invalid's benefit ever since being involved in a serious crash with a tourist who was on the wrong side of the road.

Despite that, he is all for the new tourist road so tourists get to see more of the country and locals get more job opportunities.

And, he jokes, the tourists will provide the sandflies with a fresh source of blood.

-mark.price@odt.co.nz

Proposed Hollyford road inland route

The inland Route is 108km not 160km and 30km of that is already formed.